Twenty years of work by KWN to fight gender-based violence

On December 6, during the Regional Conference “United against violence – enough!” organized by the Office of the President of the Republic of Kosovo and the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Kosovo, Adelina Berisha, Manager of the Program for Addressing Gender-Based Violence in Kosovo Women’s Network (KWN), participated in the discussion panel titled “The role of civil society in advocacy and policy-making in the field of violence against women and domestic violence.”

In her speech, Mrs. Berisha mentioned some of the successes of the KWN since the post-war period in terms of combating gender-based violence. Read her speech at this conference below:

“It is a pleasure today to share this panel with all these activist sisters from the region from whom we have had the good fortune to learn a lot. I believe that each of us is a living archive and has a history of activism in our countries. My archive starts with documents from 2007, when I became part of the Kosovo Women’s Network, and I think that for these years, I have enough successes to share, but there is not enough time.

Being a membership-based organization with 144 member organizations from all regions of Kosovo, representing all ethnicities, regardless of sexual orientation, faith, etc., we have had the good fortune to draw the reality and problems of women directly from the field. We foster collaboration between grassroots and think tanks, which has aided us in comprehending the challenges emerging from the field and strategizing on how to influence policies.

Women’s organizations were founded out of necessity, not because they had projects or budgets, but because women knocked on these women’s doors and asked for support. It started with sexual violence during the war, and from 1999, we began creating mechanisms to address violence against women. This effort continued in the post-war period by advancing policies and also by asserting the importance of women in the creation of policies, state-building, and achieving gender equality. Shelters and centers that have provided services to victims of sexual violence are all members of the Network, and together with the Network, we first overcame the stigma.

We were the first to bring these issues to the public sphere and make them known to the citizens, but also to the politicians, who at different times did not want to listen to us or believe us.

However, as the Network, we have always aimed to advocate based on facts. In 2008, we conducted the first research as the initial organization to assess the extent of domestic violence in Kosovo, with the purpose of alerting our institutions to the existence of this problem and urging them to take the necessary steps to address it as soon as possible.

I am talking about a period when Kosovo was not yet a state and was operating under UNMIK regulations. This research served as the basis for the immediate initiation of the drafting of the first Law on Protection from Domestic Violence, which was approved in 2010 and remained in effect until September of this year when it was revised and changed. Following the enactment of this law, our efforts influenced the drafting of the strategy and the first action plan for the period 2011-2015, followed by two subsequent strategies, including the current one, which now incorporates approximately 70 percent of KWN’s recommendations.

We are consistently part of all working groups during the drafting of any law related to gender equality, including legislation addressing gender-based violence.

In 2012, we conducted an analysis titled “At What Price?!” to examine the costs to the state for preventing violence. I believe this research remains relevant today and can still be utilized by our institutions to understand how a more efficient focus on prevention would be economically advantageous compared to the costs of treatment and rehabilitation for the state of Kosovo.

We conducted the first research and initiated the first campaign to bring sexual harassment into the public spotlight. We were on the ground, witnessing our girls suffering from sexual harassment, yet no one was addressing this issue.

That’s why we launched the “Take Back the Night” campaign in 2014, four to five years before the #MeToo Movement gained global prominence. In Kosovo, we were already aware of the problem of sexual harassment and how many women and girls were affected by this phenomenon.
This campaign was succeeded by the first research on Sexual Harassment in Kosovo, initiated in 2016. We approach every initiative strategically, conducting research to expose and highlight the prevalent forms of violence in society. Our goal is to advocate for and integrate the Istanbul Convention into the Constitution of Kosovo. Therefore, when this phase arrives, there can be no denial that these problems exist in our society. We strive to substantiate our claims with facts, conducting research involving both women and men citizens of Kosovo, with representative samples exceeding 1300 surveyed individuals.

After conducting research on sexual harassment, our focus shifted to addressing legislation. If you recall, around 2018, efforts commenced to amend the Criminal Code. Several donors opposed our proposals for the inclusion of domestic violence, sexual harassment, female genital mutilation, and persecution—offenses mandated by the Istanbul Convention. At that time, the Istanbul Convention was not yet part of the Kosovo Constitution. Despite objections, we took the lead in this process, collaborating with working groups. Eventually, we succeeded in convincing stakeholders, and now all these offenses are recognized as criminal offenses in the Criminal Code of Kosovo.

Following this step, we implemented a strategy that broadened to encompass all forms of violence, even before the inclusion of the Istanbul Convention in the Constitution. We were already in the process of advocating for the Convention, and as of 2020, it became an integral part of the Constitution of Kosovo. Without modesty, I can assert that this achievement is a direct contribution from women’s organizations and feminist activists.

Since 2018, we have successfully overcome the challenge of funding for shelters. Historically, shelters faced financial support challenges from the state, which is obligated to provide support as it purchases services from these organizations. In 2018, we achieved the establishment of a dedicated line in the Kosovo Budget – the Hotline for Basic Services for Shelters. Although there are some issues with the line not directly reaching shelters, other organizations also benefit from it. Nevertheless, this represents a success that we proudly acknowledge. Since then, the budget has experienced annual increases, and we remain hopeful that it will align with the needs of the shelters.

Recently, in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice and with the support of UN Women through EU funds, we have developed the first Protocol in Kosovo for the treatment of cases of Sexual Violence. Additionally, alongside Ariana, we have created two modules for the treatment of domestic violence, sexual violence, and trafficking, which are mandatory for social workers. This Monday, we achieved the certification of the first trainers who will disseminate this knowledge to other social workers working with victims of gender-based violence.

We consistently submit recommendations for drafting budgets based on identified needs. In our latest efforts, we emphasized the importance of the Municipality increasing the number of social workers. Our expectation is that this initiative will translate into a practical increase in the number of social workers in centers, ensuring that a greater number of professionals are available to assist victims. Simultaneously, we’ve advocated for an augmentation in the number of defenders for victims in cases of gender-based violence.

While traditionally, we have not been an organization providing services, the pressing need became evident as we witnessed women seeking support at the doors of institutions. Responding to this, we engaged a lawyer to assist women with counseling, referrals, and representation in courts. Our objective is to ensure that women receive the necessary legal support. We regret that our presence is essential for more efficient case handling; ideally, our institutions should treat these cases with the dignity they deserve and as mandated by the law. Nevertheless, our involvement has proven to enhance the overall efficiency in dealing with such cases.

Addressing violence is not a one-dimensional effort; we adopt a multi-sectoral approach. We actively participate in working groups shaping education curricula, aiming to influence the transformation of social norms, which are significant barriers to combating violence. Unfortunately, citizens who tolerate violence are also employees of institutions, and recognizing this interconnectedness, we extend our recommendations to the Labor Law.

Our comprehensive approach aims to tackle violence from various angles. Today, I want to convey the message that each citizen has a role in the fight against violence. Violence is not a private matter, and only through active engagement and becoming advocates for victims can we effectively combat it. I extend a call to men for self-reflection and self-critique, emphasizing the importance of taking measures to change behavior and actions. This is crucial for achieving equality between women and men.”